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Conflict Management

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Managers spend a lot of time trying to eliminate conflict in organisations. Why and do you think this is a useful thing for them to do? Both the major sources of conflict and the strategies that managers can use to overcome conflict situations in organizations should be discussed in your answer.

“Conflict in an ever-present process in human relations.” (Charles, Loomis & Loomis, 1965, as cited in Ohio State University Fact Sheet, 2002) Debate, negotiations, bargaining, disagreements, and other forms of conflict are part of the everyday life of organizational members (Barker, Tjosvold, Robert, 1988). It is a vital aspect of organizations and cannot be ignored. This essay explores the importance of manager’s role in conflict management, examines the nature, core causes and effects of varies type of conflicts, and discusses various techniques that can be utilized to manage conflict within the organization.

Definition of conflict
Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from two or more parties that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs which impact their ability to work or affect the work environment. Each individual has through life experiences, develop a set of values and behavioral rules, and is motivated by a peculiarly unique degree of satisfactions in a set of needs (Jerome & Peppers, 1976). According to Boulding (1957), organization is living systems consisting of interacting units performing a task in a mutually dependent manner within a structure of scared resource, division of functions, power relations and role-differentiation. Organization can be seen as a micro-community, it is made up of individual human beings, when they work and interact as a whole, and conflict arises naturally and inevitably in organizations.

Views of conflicts
Traditionally, people make an assumption that conflict is bad and always be counterproductive to organizational goals, and give no attention to its positive side. Thus, organization often does not permit mistake or error, subordinates are obligated to avoid conflict and managers try their best, spending time and putting effort to prevent the conflicts to occur and eliminate them, in order to keep the organization functions smoothly. In fact, conflicts should not be view from negative prospective only. It is true that conflict may be a source of problems, such as delay projects, wasted resources, personal frustration, social-emotional separation, division of effort to winning rather than organizational goal achievement (Wall &Callister, 1995). Yet, it is necessary and beneficial when an organization requires change and innovation, conflicts can be the stimulant. As Leonard Rico stated, "The absence of conflict may indicate autocracy, uniformity, stagnation, and mental fixity; the presence of conflict may be indicative of democracy, diversity, growth, and self-actualization." (Jerome & Peppers,1976). Therefore, what is needed, as Harry Levinson indicates, is a supportive environment that gives the individual room to maneuver, freedom to make mistakes (Levinson. H, 1968, as cited in Jerome & Peppers, 1976), stimulation of creative conflict can be obtained by increasing the autonomy of individuals on their jobs (Jerome & Peppers, 1976), so as to stimulate conflicts. Rather spending time to eliminate conflict, manage should turn to encourage conflict and maximize its positive potential effects.

Manager’s role
Management plays an important role in conflict management. There is no doubt that managing conflict permeates every aspect of the manager role (Jerome & Peppers,1976). Ignoring its existence and taking no action to it can lead to worsen situation. As Parker (1974, as cited in Ohio State University Fact Sheet, 2002) notes, conflict not managed will bring about delays, disinterest, lack of action and, in extreme cases, a complete breakdown of the group. Therefore, effective manager requires capacity to aware the presence of conflict and responds to it on time before it becomes uncontrollable. It is also significant for manager to keep conflicts at its most effective and beneficial level. Too little conflict results in organizational stasis, while too much conflict reduces the organization’s effectiveness and eventually immobilizes its employees (Marquis & Huston, 1996 as cited in Hendel ed al, 2005).

Manager simply eliminating conflict without evaluating its causes and effects is inappropriate and time-wasting, as the problem has never been solved properly. Robinson and Clifford (1974) advocates "managing conflict toward constructive action since a conflict can seldom be completely resolved”, it is necessary for manager monitor the events carefully, ascertain the presence of a conflict, define the nature of the conflict, respond to it, identify its basic sources, the level at which it manifests itself, control its degree of intensity and seek for the satisfactory and acceptable conflict resolution which is able to minimizing the negative effect and turning it into a positive force (Bercovitch, 1998). Thus, the critical issue is not endlessly spending time to eliminate conflict, but itself management.

Types and Sources of conflict:
To avoid the detrimental effects on individuals as well as organizational functioning, managers need to identify the sources and causes of the conflict and take appropriate action to deal with it (Bercovitch, 1998). Traditionally conflict is separated into two distinct categorizes: emotional conflict and task-focused conflict. Emotional conflict exists when there are interpersonal incompatibilities which include tension, animosity and annoyance among group members (Jehn.K.A, 1995). Task-focused conflict exists when there are disagreements among group members about the content of the tasks being performed, including differences in viewpoints, ideas, and opinions (Jehn.K.A, 1995). Past theory suggests that relationship conflict is always destructive which produces suboptimal product and undermines group performance. (Argyris.C, 1962, as cited in Jehn.K.A, 1995) While moderate levels of task conflict can be beneficial, i t facilitates critical evaluation, increases thoughtful consideration of criticism and achieves better task-performance. (Janis & Lrving.L 1982, as cited in Jehn.K.A, 1995).

Organizational conflicts appear in a variety of forms and have varying causes. There are conflicts that originate in the individual person, conflicts that have their basis in the relationship between individuals, and conflicts that occur as a result of interactions between groups (Bercovitch, 1998). These can be describing as intrapersonal, interpersonal, and interdepartmental conflict.

Intrapersonal
Intrapersonal conflicts occur when a member of an organization is ‘required to perform certain tasks, activities, or roles that do not match his or her expertise, interests, goals and values.’ (DeCHurch & Marks, 2001) It arises when a stimulus evokes two different and incompatible tendencies and the individual is required to discriminate between these tendencies. (Bercovitch, 1998) For example, a front desk associate who has just received the great news of the annual company picnic. The associate has promised his children to take the family to the picnic, but is required to work during the times of the picnic. The associate is torn between his obligation to work and the promise to the family (Hover, 1997). Requirements of the organization also act as sources of conflict because they usually demand that the goals and needs of the organization be given higher priority than the rights of the individual (Jerome & Peppers,1976). People may have conflict in interest between their own beliefs and work natures, if it is against their moral or interest; they may experience frustrations, lose motivation and interest in their works or choose to leave the organization.

Managing intrapersonal conflict
Intrapersonal conflict is an incongruity between individual needs and organizational requirements. When a person experience an inner conflict and feel frustrate for the conflict, they may choose to falsify or deny its existence and carry on with his normal activities. Yet, this repression and rationalization strategies can only resolve the conflict in a temporary way, by diminishing his level of anxiety and tension, but it cannot generate a resolution (Bercovitch, 1998). Bercovitch (1988) suggested that the intrapersonal conflict can be resolved by the involvement of an expert-consultant; that is through evaluating and discussing of the substantive issues with the individual rationally, helping him to unload his burdensome thoughts and reactions and reorienting his thinking towards a more benevolent and self-maintaining pattern of behaviors. It is a method which seeks not merely an improvement of the surface symptoms, but a permanent solution as it successfully change the situational, altitudinal and behavioral components of a conflict (Bercovitch, 1988).

Interpersonal conflict
Secondly, interpersonal conflict presents when two or more people have different thoughts, motives or values about a given situation. As singular person views things differently, they have varies desires or goals, if their attributes are not meshed together in a coordinated way, conflicts will arise. If a person’s desire or goal is to engage in conflict or competition with the other, then such a goal is apt to generate conflict. (Wall & Callister, 1995) For example, an employee dispute may arise when several people in a department request vacation for the same week but only one employee is granted the request due to business demands. The employees who are not granted the requested vacation may harbor ill feelings toward the employee who was granted the vacation (Wall &Callister, 1995). Interpersonal conflicts will be strongest with those enjoy argumentation and combat who find life is a series of hostilities and battles (Bartol, Tein, Matthew & Sharma, 2008). Their conflict-prone personal styles or behavior can be very destructive to the relationship between colleagues (Bartol et al, 2008). Poor communication can also result in interpersonal conflicts. Misunderstanding arises when two individuals fail to share fully meanings of each other, due to the technical problems in the communication process, or actual differences in their perceptions and understandings (Ohio State University Fact Sheet, 2002). Communication has an essential impact on the organizational function; a semantic misunderstanding can be damaging if it is related to an activity that is critical to the organization, it may undermine coordination between subordinates and their performance (Wall &Callister, 1995).

Reference List
 Andrew. R. I, Barker.J & Tjsovold. D (1988), Conflict approaches of effective and ineffective project managers: A field study in a matrix organization, Journal Of Management Studies 25(2), Simon Fraser University, Dean Tjosvold Faculty of Business Adminstration
 Bartol.K, Matthews.G, Martin.D & Tein.M, (2008), Management: A pacific rim focus (5th ed.): North Ryde, N.S.W., McGraw-Hill.
 Berocovitch. J, (1998), Conflict and conflict management in organizations: A framework for analysis, University of Canterbury
 Boulding. K.E., (1957) Organizations and Conflict, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1 (2), 122-134
 DeChurch.L.A & Marks.M.A (2001), Maximizing the benefits of task conflict: the role of conflict management, The International Journal of Conflict Management, 12(1), 4-22, Florida Inernational University
 Hendel.T, Fish.M & Galon.V (2005), Leadership style and choice of strategy in conflict management among Israeli nurse managers in general hospital, Journal of Nursing Management,13, 137-146
 Hover.D (1997), Give Peace a chance at work, Human Resource Management
 Jehn.K.A, (1995), A multimethod examination of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict, Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256-282, University of Pennsylvania
 Jerome.G & Peppers. J (1976), Conflict in organization: Good or bad, Air University Review
 Robinson, Jerry W., Jr. and Roy A . Clifford,(1974) "Conflict Management in Community Groups." University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, North-Central Regional Extension Publication. 36(5)
 Thomas K.W. (1977), Toward multi-dimensional values in teaching: the example of conflict behaviors, Academy of Management Review,2, 484-90
 Wall.J.A & Callister.R.R (1995), Conflict and its management, Journal of Management, 21(5), 515-558, University of Missouri

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